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The oubliette.

“You almost had me there, sis. Almost.” Raven stood over the opening of the oubliette and I could do nothing but stare up at him and hate him.

“Almost,” I whispered. That had been my life. Almost. Maybe. Nearly. Failure after failure. Tears slipped down my cheeks.

“Don’t cry.” He crouched beside the opening. “I won’t forget you, Lark. Everyone else will, but I will remember you as the one who could have stopped me.” He winked and slammed the oubliette’s rounded door shut, thrusting me into total darkness.

The oubliette shifted under me, sinking into the ground. Sucking me down into my grave.

“Mother goddess,” I whispered. My last hope was that she would hear me. “Please, this can’t be the end.”

There was no answering whisper, no fleeting touch of comfort. I slumped, my body curled with the curve of my prison. My hand brushed against the leather bag at my waist. Painfully, I lifted the bag and rested it on my belly, spilling the contents onto my chest.

Blinking, I realized I could see them. The white stone I’d taken from the statue in the Pit glowed, flickering with light. I touched my finger to it and a low-grade buzz flickered through my body. The wound in my back throbbed in time with my slowing heart, but the buzz . . . it pushed the pain back. I closed my eyes, and clutched the chunk of stone. Whatever it was doing seemed to be numbing the pain, which was good enough for me. To die without suffering . . . sleep dragged me into its depths. My dreams were strange, distorted images.

Bella hiding in the Deep, her hands around her belly.

Ash and Peta running through the Rim together, Griffin at their side.

Cactus riding Shazer, winging through the skies.

Looking for me, they were looking for me.

My father on his back in a dark hole, an oubliette like mine. His eyes closed in a false sleep.

I jerked awake and groaned. Rolling to my hands and knees, I struggled to sit upright. My head brushed the top of the oubliette when I sat flat on my rear. The silence ate at me, but I refused to acknowledge it by speaking to myself.

A full minute passed before it occurred to me I was not dead, nor did my back hurt. I reached behind myself, twisting my arm so I could feel where the wound had been. A slightly ridged scar under my fingers was the only sign I’d been hurt.

There was no sense of time, no sense of how long I’d been asleep. Except my belly rumbled and my body was healed. I rubbed the white, softly glowing stone. Niah’s words rippled through my mind.

“You’ll need it, Lark. When you least expect, the stone will save your life, I think.”

I broke my own rule and whispered into the darkness. “The Pit holds our greatest healers . . . is it possible this is a part of their power?”

Shifting my weight again, I pressed my hands into the edges of the oubliette. Solid and impenetrable, there was no way I was getting out on my own.

My belly rumbled again. The stone may have healed me, but I was still stuck in the oubliette with no water, and no food. I’d be dead in days.

The small collection of items on my belly from my bag was all I had. I touched the moringa seed and flipped it off me. It tinkled against the sides of the oubliette, settling into the rounded hollow below me. What good was a single seed to me?

I touched the hooked earring. Oubliettes blocked the power of an elemental, keeping them from escaping their punishment. So what good was an earring that would allow me to breathe under water? Useless, just like me.

There was nothing I could do to save myself. No connection to my power. No connection to my bond to Peta.

No way out.

“FUCK!” I screamed and slammed my fists into the oubliette over and over again until the skin broke and the bone ached. The hooked earring hung above my head, jammed into the man-made material. I grabbed at it, but the blood on my hands made it impossible to grip. The tip pierced my finger, drawing a scream out of me. Not pain, not really.

I could do nothing.

I was useless.

I slipped against the inside curve of my prison and fell. Panicked, I couldn’t slow my breathing as I struggled to get hold of myself. The light from the stone illuminated my tiny space, showing me how tiny it truly was. How trapped I was.

Trembling, I forced myself to sit quietly and slow my breathing. There had to be a way out. I only needed to calm myself and find the solution.

I closed my eyes and wrapped my hands around the white stone. A faint buzz began again and tickled over my broken-up knuckles, and the flesh slowly knit itself together. But the light dimmed. I dropped the stone and it lay at my feet. My knuckles would heal. I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep my sanity if I lost my only light source.

Time passed.

A steady drip of water woke me from the daze I’d fallen into. I blinked several times as I found myself staring up at the hooked earring. From it dripped a steady drizzle of water.

I tipped my head back and slid my mouth under the water. Drop by drop, my thirst was quenched. So now it was a matter of starving to death.

Time passed.

Above my head a trickle of air wafted over my nose and I looked up. Apparently Blackbird hadn’t sunk my oubliette as far down as I’d thought. It had small cuts in it to allow for airflow. The cramped cells were designed to hold someone for a day or two. Three at the most, for a severe punishment. I slid my fingers over the razor-thin openings, feeling the hint of rain on the tiny breeze. Sure enough, a chest-rattling boom of thunder clapped and the patter of rain began around my oubliette. Water dripped in through the openings until I sat in a puddle of dirty water. The rain stopped.

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